How to Be a Smart Patient

An insider's guide to getting the best medical treatment, from "You: The Smart Patient: An Insider's Handbook for Getting the Best Treatment," by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D.

By Michael F. Roizen | MD from Reader's Digest

6. The waiting game. When you’re anxious for test results, don’t think, No news is good news. It’s no news. Too many patients wait for the doctor to call them with results, or they figure that silence means everything’s fine. Smart patients always ask when the results will likely be in, and they call the office that day. And the next day, and so on. It’s an extra reminder for us to call the lab if it’s running behind. A postcard from the lab may have been lost. And in a bustling office, records can sit for a day or two without us knowing. So be a nudge.

7. Get with the plan! If a doctor doesn’t accept your insurance, but he is really your top choice, don’t give up. Call the insurance company and ask if it would consider adding this doctor to the list. If it won’t, ask why. Sometimes, if even just a few patients ask the insurer to add a doctor, and the physician approves, the company will agree. Likewise, ask your doctor if you could persuade him to begin accepting your insurer. And every year when you renew your health insurance (a
lovely period, usually in the fall, called open enrollment), call your doctor’s office and make sure it intends to keep accepting this insurance plan. When we’re deciding which insurance carriers we’ll work with, we can be swayed by just a few small factors — and if dropping a plan will create big problems for two or three regular (and well-liked) patients, that can carry weight. So speak up.

8. Learn from the past. Consider having an autopsy performed on your parents when they pass away. Few are done today compared with decades ago, as it’s rarely thought necessary when a cause of death is clear. Although it
can be expensive, there’s much value in knowing if your 82-year-old father has undiagnosed prostate cancer that had been advancing since his 50s, or heart disease even though it was a stroke that did him in. This is especially useful if the death was due to an accident. Reassure your living parent this doesn’t mean that foul play is suspected, there can’t be an open casket, or the body will be shipped to a CSI sound stage.

9. Need surgery? Hunt for the specialist’s specialist. You don’t just want a doctor who is comfortable with performing a particular surgery as part of a wide repertoire; you want the surgeon who is obsessively focused on the exact technique you need done. Today, one surgeon can gain so much experience with one very specific surgery that her patients have fewer complications than the national average. Aside from asking your regular doctor to point you to the maestro of your surgery, doing Internet research can help you locate such a hyper-specialized surgeon. You just have to hope that one works at your hospital (and takes your insurance plan), or a road trip might be in store. And make sure your hospital is Joint Commission accredited for quality and safety. Go to to find the best hospital for you.

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail